Palestine, Zionist Colonialism, and Arab Reaction
My essay “Gaza: A Capitalist Genocide” discusses the violent nationalism of Zionism in greater depth, but in this section my main aim is to point out the significant role that Israel played in the escalation of violence in the Middle East. The story officially started when Britain sought to secure Jewish support during the First World War by signing the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promising to facilitate the establishment in Palestine of a ‘national home for the Jewish people’. In 1923, the British Mandate over Palestine officially began, as did significant Zionist migration to the region.
In 1929, Arab-Zionist violence broke out and, six years later, mass protests began when a popular Islamic leader was killed by British police. Nazi persecution of Jews in Europe, meanwhile, would soon see many Jews migrate to Palestine, rapidly increasing the Jewish population of Palestine. Arab peasants, who were being dispossessed as Jews bought land from wealthy landowners, rebelled against the governing colonial regime in 1936. As the rebellion continued, a British commission recommended the division of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
The tensions were still present, but the rebellion died down in part because the British government agreed in 1939 to reject the idea of a Jewish state (in the ‘White Paper’) and to limit Jewish migration. Zionist zealots, however, were committed to ensuring they had control over Palestine, and the terrorist organisation known as Irgun (led by eventual Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin) blew up the King David Hotel in 1946, killing 91 people. The following year, such Zionists officially declared war on the British Mandate government, and the British, dealing with wartime devastation at home, handed the ‘Palestinian Question’ over to the UN. A UN commission, in spite of contrary information from previous investigations, decided that the partition in Palestine was the best solution to unrest in the territory. Such action was opposed by all of the Arab states in the region but, thanks to intense Zionist lobbying, the plan was approved.
In preparation for the 1948 partition of Palestine, Irgun (along with the Haganah paramilitary organisation) began to remove Arabs from land ‘assigned’ to Jews by the UN, creating around 400,000 refugees in the process. When the day of independence came, Britain withdrew its forces from Palestine, and the State of Israel was immediately recognised by both the USA and the USSR (showing that both lacked an understanding of (or interest in) the unrest that would inevitably follow). Arab nations, angry about Israeli crimes against the Arab population of Palestine, decided to invade Israel. The heavily armed new state, however, easily routed the Arab coalition, and subsequently took extra land which had previously been allotted to Palestinians. The resulting refugees fled to either the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip or the Jordanian-controlled West Bank.
Although it had become a member of the UN, Israel refused to put Jerusalem under international control in accordance with the organisation’s partition plan. In 1950, Jordan would officially annex the West Bank, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would be created by the Arab League four years later in an attempt to ‘represent Palestinian Arabs’. The continuing refugee situation, however, saw conflict escalate over the coming years, as did Israel’s invasion of Egypt in 1956. In 1967, the Zionist state attacked Egypt and Syria in the Six-Day War, occupying Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem in the process.
Two years after the war, Yasser Arafat became the chairman of the PLO’s executive committee, and the largest movement within the coalition, al-Fatah, committed itself to an armed liberation struggle against Israel. Thousands of Palestinian refugees in the region would join the group as a result of this declaration. After Jordan’s King Hussein ordered attacks in 1970 on the PLO in refugee camps (which killed thousands of Palestinians in what would be known as ‘Black September’), the organisation was forced to regroup in Lebanon. Some refugees, however, turned towards terrorist activities, with a group known as Black September taking Israeli athletes hostage in 1972.
In 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, Yasser Arafat addressed the UN, which recognised Palestine’s right to sovereignty, and gave it observer status in the organisation. In 1987, after years of deteriorating living conditions for Palestinians and continued occupation of their land, the First Intifada was launched. A large number of the movement’s peaceful protesters would be viciously killed by Israeli ‘security forces’ and, after the first three years of the uprising, Israel had killed thousands of activists and civilians. During this period, the Islamist group Hamas was founded in Gaza, and it would soon gain support from Palestinians who were angry about the lack of change obtained through peaceful resistance.
In 1988, Palestine declared its independence, and more than 25 countries recognised the Palestine National Council (PNC) in exile. Yasser Arafat declared that the PNC rejected terrorism and recognised the State of Israel, but only after years of continued mobilisation would the Oslo I agreement finally be signed with Israel in 1993. Subsequently, Arafat and other leaders returned to the West Bank in 1994 to set up the Palestinian Authority – which would control both administration and security in Gaza and the West Bank. Unfortunately, 1994 also saw a Zionist extremist kill 29 Palestinians, an event which led Hamas to retaliate with suicide bombs targeting Jewish settlements.
In 1995, the Oslo II accords made provisions for permanent Palestinian self-rule, but living conditions continued to worsen, and widespread disillusionment with the peace process began to grow. In Israel, the Prime Minister was assassinated by a Zionist extremist, showing that there was significant tension in the country between anti-peace right-wingers and the much weaker forces for change. In the Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, little would change after Arafat’s election as president in 1996, leading to greater and greater discontent. The Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, was a lot more violent than the first and, even though many more Palestinians died, Israelis also began to feel the impact of the uprising (with suicide attacks from groups like Hamas killing a number of Israelis). Feeling the pressure, Israel pulled out of Gaza at the end of the conflict, though it would intensify a blockade on the territory after Hamas’s electoral victory there in 2006. At the same time, many Israeli citizens were now “less supportive of peace efforts” and “more willing to accept or simply ignore the occupation’s effects on Palestinians”. These sentiments fuelled the growth of the right wing Likud party, which played on these sentiments as “right-wing Israeli extremists” became “increasingly violent”, particularly in their illegal settlements in the West Bank.
Israel’s blockade strangled economic life in Gaza, creating a sense of “hopelessness and distrust in Israel”, while nurturing a “climate… hospitable to extremism” there. Peaceful tactics had not succeeded in improving the lives of Palestinians, so resistance to the Israeli blockade seemed like the best way – however suicidal – of changing the hostile, authoritarian political stance of the Israeli regime. The subsequent Israeli genocidal campaigns against Palestinians, as discussed in my essay on Gaza, have been a result of both the increasing right-wing domination of Israel’s political system and the “catastrophalist” way of thinking in Israeli society, which has contributed to a significant loss of “humanitarian sensibility” towards Palestinians. An important consequence of these oppressive and murderous actions, however, has been to contribute even further to radicalisation within marginalised Muslim communities. Israeli policies, therefore, must be considered as a major driving force behind increasing conflict and extremism in the Middle East.
Resistance, Communism, and Islamism in Afghanistan
In addition to propping up the State of Israel, the USA’s main goal in the Muslim World in the twentieth century was to prevent communism from gaining popularity or power. As a result of this Cold War stance, Afghanistan became embroiled in the imperialist strategies that affected the rest of the Muslim World to its west. In part, this was because of its large border with the Soviet Union, which meant that even the conservative forces in Afghanistan had long tried to maintain a working relationship with the USSR during the twentieth century. A lot of the information below, unless otherwise specified, has been taken from the BBC’s Afghanistan Profile.
In 1863, Amir Sher Ali Khan came to power, and sought to modernise Afghanistan and build a modern army. Britain “had failed to colonialize Afghanistan” in the First Anglo-Afghan War between 1839 and 1842, but “the danger of colonialism and imperialist conquest was still looming at the door”. Khan made reforms that helped Afghanistan to develop capitalist structures and defend itself more effectively against colonial invasion. Between 1878 and 1880, however, the British were successful in the Second Anglo-Afghan War and, while the Afghans could maintain their internal sovereignty, they had to give Britain control of their foreign relations. When Amir Abdur Rahman Khan became king in 1880, he ruthlessly established “a strong centralized state”, which “was essential for the development of capital”. His successor continued these efforts until he was assassinated in 1919.
Amanullah Khan then “claimed the throne” and effectively regained political sovereignty over international issues as a result of his army’s resistance in the Third Anglo-Afghan war. He sought to end feudalism “by attacking the rights and privileges of the big landlords, the nobility, tribal chiefs and the Islamic clergy”. In the 1920s, he was “deeply influenced by the “progress” in European countries he visited”, and he enshrined “individual political freedoms” in a new constitution. Other reforms saw women given access to higher education; slavery abolished; the “obligatory veiling” of women discouraged; the equality of men and women proclaimed; child marriages and polygyny discouraged; land reforms introduced; and the tax privileges “of feudal and tribal lords” challenged. A lack of real change for peasants, however, “led to discontent on their part”.
In response, British colonialists helped to “generate resentment among the oppressed” by taking advantage of the some of Amanullah’s unpopular cultural reforms, adding to already existent “opposition from the feudal lords and the Islamic clergy”. These British lackeys in Afghanistan “spread rumors to the effect that the King was sowing the seeds of infidelity in society” with his reforms, and he was “branded an “infidel” who had introduced human-made laws in contradiction to the divine laws”. When he was finally overthrown in 1929, the Constitutional Movement of Afghanistan was violently suppressed by the monarchs that succeeded him. His reform movement, according to Fraidoon Amel at Global Research, had been defeated “because the Afghan bourgeoisie” he led had not been strong enough “to defeat the feudal class in the social battle”. Nonetheless, his Treaty of Friendship with the USSR, signed in 1921, had helped to set in motion a “slow state-driven transition towards capitalism under a succession of oppressive rulers” after him.
In 1933, King Zahir Shah took control of Afghanistan, though “his uncles… immediately rallied round and ran the country for the next 20 years”. The country courted the West, and remained neutral throughout the Second World War. When India gained its independence after the conflict, the king sought to defend its Pashtun population, which would eventually be absorbed into Pakistan. Between 1953 and 1963, his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan served as Prime Minister, taking a hard line on the ‘Pashtun Question’ and overseeing a souring of bilateral relations with Pakistan. The Afghan economy suffered as a result, and the government was forced by the Afghan people to reform. In 1964, a constitution was introduced that provided for free elections, civil rights, women’s rights, and universal suffrage. Relatives of the king, meanwhile, including Daoud Khan himself, would no longer be allowed to serve within the government.
In 1973, the king’s “terrible response to a three-year drought that killed an estimated 80,000 people” created an opportunity for Khan to lead a coup d’état while the king was in Europe. Supported by the Afghan communist party (the PDPA), he abolished the monarchy and named himself president. According to Fraidoon Amel, the government subsequently “launched a persecution campaign against Islamists inspired by the extremist ideology of [the] Muslim-Brotherhood”. The Bhutto government in Pakistan, meanwhile, welcomed some of the exiled Afghan Islamists, hoping that they would help to topple the country’s new regime. In 1975, these forces launched an attack on Daoud Khan’s forces, but lost due to a lack of popular support. At the same time, though, Khan was seeking to distance himself from the Soviet Union, in the hope of establishing “close relations with the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other US cronies in the region”. In order to do so, he expelled PDPA ministers from his cabinet, set up “an authoritarian government”, and “banned all political parties”.
Meanwhile, the differences between two factions of the PDPA, the Parcham (more moderate, urban, and middle class) and the Khalq (more radical, tribal, and working class), would soon become more acute. Towards the late seventies, Khan had increased repression against PDPA members, and had arrested many of them after mass protests following the assassination of a prominent member of the Parcham. As a result, key Khalq member Hafizullah Amin (who would later be accused by the USSR of collaboration with the CIA) ordered Khalq officers in the military to overthrow Khan’s regime. Through a successful coup in April 1978, these forces initiated the Saur Revolution, immediately winning the support of “millions of oppressed Afghans” (in spite of the fact that the PDPA sought to bring about a “revolution from above” rather than from below).
In 1978, around 5% of Afghan landowners possessed 45% of the country’s fertile land, while 83% of them possessed small plots which, in total, made up only 35%. In other words, there was an incredibly unjust distribution of land which favoured a small elite and confined the majority of Afghans to poverty. When the PDPA took over control of the country, they immediately set about changing this situation. They also sought to cancel “debts, loans, mortgages and revenues due from peasants to the usurers and big landlords”; ensure “equality of rights between women and men”; criminalise “marriage based on [an] exchange for money and goods”, forced marriage, child marriage, and the prevention of remarriage; confiscate “feudal lands and the lands owned by the deposed royal family” and redistribute them “among landless peasants and peasants with small land owning”; and set a “ceiling for land ownership” – above which extra land would be “qualified for confiscation [and redistribution] with no compensation”. All of these measures were shocking for the West, as they were much more radical than any steps that had previously been taken elsewhere in the Muslim World. It felt that it had to act in order to prevent other nations from following the Afghan path. Therefore, it immediately set about exploiting internal divisions in Afghanistan and undermining the PDPA regime with the help of its lackeys in the region.
Initially, there was unity between the Khalq and Parcham in the new communist government, but the Khalq’s attempt to drastically reform society in a short amount of time created resistance in what was essentially a conservative Muslim nation (especially in the countryside). In its revolutionary fervour, the Khalq arrested and executed tens of thousands of people who opposed their reforms and, in September 1979, Hafizullah Amin even had a key Khalq comrade assassinated so he could take control of the government himself. Trying to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on the Soviet Union and combat counter-insurgency, he sought to maintain good relations with the West and convince citizens he was not anti-Islamic by strengthening ties with Pakistan and Iran. It was too late, though, as the USSR’s doubts about Amin’s abilities to lead the country, along with Parcham requests for Soviet intervention to ‘protect the revolutionary process’, meant that his days were numbered.
In December 1979, Soviet troops entered into Afghanistan to bolster their allies there. According to President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the USA had “provoked the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan” with its support for opposition movements in the country. As a response to the invasion, the United States and Saudi Arabia paid Pakistan to train and arm Islamist forces to fight against the Afghan government and its Soviet partners. By 1992, there would be “more than a million dead, three million disabled, and five million made refugees, in total about half the population”, even though peace accords had officially been signed in 1988. The “two superpowers”, meanwhile, “had abandoned the war”, says William Blum, leaving Islamist guerrillas to take Kabul and establish “the first Islamic regime in Afghanistan since it had become… [an] independent country in the mid-18th century”.
In 1997, a year after Islamists united under the name of the Taliban had entered Kabul, a newly-installed extremist regime was recognised as the legitimate government of Afghanistan by US allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Two years later, the UN imposed sanctions on the country in an attempt to encourage them to extradite Osama Bin Laden, who had been gaining a reputation as an influential Wahhabi terrorist. He wasn’t extradited, though, and was soon said to be behind the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. President Bush, looking to show his patriotism (and idiocy), launched an attack on Afghanistan a month later.
After the US invasion, former CIA collaborator and Islamist tribal leader Hamid Karzai led an interim power-sharing government, before serving as president until 2014. During this period, 2349 US soldiers were killed, along with 453 from the UK and 674 from elsewhere. Most were killed in areas on the border with Pakistan. In the same period, “at least 21,000 civilians [were] estimated to have died violent deaths as a result of the war”. In 2013, Afghan forces officially took command of all military and security operations, but widespread fraud in the following year’s elections led to Ashraf Ghani entering into a power sharing deal as Afghani president. [Further analysis of Western intervention in Afghanistan will be seen in both Chapters 5 and 6.]
Pakistan as a Counterweight to India and a Base for Extremism
In the mid-1800s, the East India Company began to take greater control of the Indian subcontinent, building railways and canals but repressing opposition to foreign rule. Invasive reforms, harsh taxes, and provocation of members of the Indian ruling class all led to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which was violently suppressed the following year and resulted in the dissolution of the Company and the implementation of direct colonial rule. The Indian aristocracy was now protected by Britain, but the Indian National Congress (INC) would be founded in 1885 to fight for India’s right to self-rule. In 1906, meanwhile, the Muslim League was founded in the largely Muslim areas of India, and it endorsed the idea of a separate nation for the country’s Muslims in 1940.
After World War I, repressive British legislation led to the growth of more organised Indian movements in favour of independence. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in particular would lead a peaceful movement focussed on non-cooperation, which would help the INC win electoral victories in the 1930s. Meanwhile, Muslim nationalism grew in popularity and, when British rule ended in 1947, East and West Pakistan were created as a Muslim state. This division would soon contribute to communal violence which saw “hundreds of thousands” killed and millions made homeless. The following year, Pakistan and India would go to war over who would control the territory of Kashmir, a region “rich in natural resources”.
In 1956, the Pakistani Constitution proclaimed the nation as an Islamic republic. Two years later, martial law was declared and General Ayub Khan led a coup. He became president in 1960 and, believing India to be weak after its defeat by China in 1962, he planned a quick military campaign in Kashmir which he thought would rout the Indian Army with ease. In 1965, whilst implementing pro-Western policies, he launched the Second Kashmir War. As a result of the offensive’s failure and changing economic fortunes, there was a popular uprising in 1969, which led general Yahya Khan to overthrow the ruling regime.
In 1971, civil war broke out, and India helped East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) to secede from Pakistan. Soon afterwards, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (of the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP), who had grown in popularity because of his progressive policies and opposition to military rule, was made president in unprecedented elections. Two years later, he became prime minister. After conservatives rioted in 1977, however, alleging vote rigging, General Zia-ul-Haq deposed Bhutto in a bloodless coup. Nonetheless, the PPP leader would be executed two years later.
Zia sought to introduce Islamic law and usher in an Islamic system in Pakistan, and the USA pledged military assistance to him in 1980 so he could back anti-communist Islamists in Afghanistan. This support was responsible for fuelling the radical Islamism that the USA and its allies claim to fight against today. In 1985, Zia lifted the state of martial law and the ban on political parties, allowing Bhutto’s daughter Benazir to return from exile to lead the PPP. In 1988, Zia and other key political figures died in a mysterious air crash, leaving the PPP free to win the elections without any significant opposition.
However, Bhutto was dismissed as prime minister in 1990 on charges of incompetence and corruption. Her replacement, Nawaz Sharif, began a programme of economic liberalisation and formally incorporated Islamic Shariah law into legal code. In 1993, the Islamists were pushed from power by the army, and Bhutto once again won elections (before being dismissed for a second time in 1996). Sharif and the Muslim League returned to power in 1997 but, when a thousand people died in renewed clashes in Kashmir in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf seized power in coup. A Kashmir ceasefire was reached in 2003. The following year, the USA began drone strikes near the Afghan border, and Pakistan’s parliament approved the creation of a military-led National Security Council (which institutionalised the role of the armed forces in civilian affairs).
The 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan had radicalised many Muslims in Pakistan, and fighting continued on the border until a peace accord with pro-Al-Qaeda militants was signed in 2006. The following year, Bhutto was allowed to return from exile but, as she arrived, dozens of her supporters were killed by Islamists. An election win for Musharraf, meanwhile, triggered mass protests which saw Sharif return from exile and Bhutto assassinated. The PPP and Sharif formed a coalition to push Musharraf out of power, and Bhutto’s widower became president. Whilst cracking down on terrorism (a suicide bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad killed 53 people in 2008), he borrowed billions of dollars from the IMF and oversaw the killing of more than a thousand people in an offensive in the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan.
After Bin Laden’s assassination by American forces in Pakistan in 2011, and NATO’s murder of 25 Pakistani soldiers, the government shut down NATO’s Afghan supply routes and imprisoned the doctor who had helped US troops to find Bin Laden. The USA responded by cutting aid to the country in 2012, but Pakistan soon reopened the supply routes after the United States officially apologised for the killings. In 2013, Musharraf returned to Pakistan from exile, but he was arrested and put on trial in 2014. Meanwhile, the largest turnout of voters since 1970 had put Sharif and his neoliberal Islamists back in power. The Prime Minister, who had created a “huge business empire” whilst in exile in Saudi Arabia, would be ranked as the fifth richest person in Pakistan in early 2015, with a net worth of $1.4 billion. In power, he “advertised himself as a business-friendly leader eager to privatise lossmaking state groups”. At the same time, he would oversee increasing tensions with India over the ‘Kashmir Question’.
Ethnic Tensions, Oil, and Ba’athism in Iraq
In 1921, Britain installed Faisal, the son of the Sharif of Mecca, as king of Iraq. Ten years later, the newly-formed country was given nominal independence from Britain, though it also signed a treaty giving the British special privileges. When a pro-Nazi coup took place in 1941, Britain intervened to install pro-British leaders. In 1958, the pro-Western monarch and prime minister of the country were overthrown by nationalist brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had been inspired by Nasser and the Free Officers of Egypt.
He sought to create a nation inclusive of all different ethnicities and religious groups, and appease the poorest in Iraq by nationalising the oil industry. However, after tribal Kurds rebelled, possibly with Western support, Qasim began to lose legitimacy, and he was eventually toppled in a CIA-backed Ba’athist coup in 1963. Horrors committed by the Ba’athists against Iraqi left-wingers after the coup were eventually followed by a less bloodthirsty nationalist leadership. Ba’athist General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr would later lead another coup in 1968, though, and Saddam Hussein would become the vice chairman of the Ba’ath Party a year later. Six years on, the Iraqi government signed a deal with Iran aimed at curbing Kurdish influence and resistance in both countries.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein became president as al-Bakr retired. Soon afterwards, he attacked Iran, eventually receiving support from the West for his attack on the ‘anti-imperialist’ Iranian regime. In 1988, thousands of Kurds in Halabja were killed in a chemical weapon attack allegedly launched by the Iraqi government, but the West continued to support Saddam. Two years later, however, the Iraqi leader decided to invade Kuwait, and around 500,000 Western-backed soldiers immediately began to prepare for intervention from Saudi Arabia. Jordan, Yemen, and the PLO condemned the subsequent ‘Operation Desert Storm’, but allied air strikes and ground offensives continued regardless, decimating the Iraqi army. International sanctions were then placed on Iraq, and living conditions for Iraqis rapidly deteriorated. Meanwhile, Kurds in the north managed to gain a certain amount of autonomy from Baghdad thanks to a Western-backed no-fly zone.
In 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein once and for all. Around “133,000 civilians [were] killed by direct violence” between 2003 and 2014, and “approximately 1.5 million people [were] still displaced from their homes” in 2014. This war played a significant role in allowing Wahhabi extremism to take hold in Iraq, in spite of the country’s previous secularism, whilst also weakening the power of the central government (giving northern Kurds in particular much more autonomy). [Issues related to Iraqi Ba’athism and ISIS will be covered in greater detail in Chapter Three and between Chapters Five and Seven.]
Libya, Gaddafi, and Imperialist Hostility
Libya plays a fairly secondary role in this book, but it is relevant particularly because of the influence it had on the Muslim World under the Gaddafi regime and because it became an example of Western hypocrisy after the start of the Arab Spring. Only when Gaddafi came into power in 1969 would Libya truly become a key player in the fight against imperialism in the Muslim World, and his nationalist search to apply ‘progressive’ political measures within a religious context would make his regime a target for Western aggression on numerous occasions.
The twentieth century began for Libya with an Italian invasion and the brutal repression of popular resistance to their colonial forces. The territory was officially named Libya in 1929, and would gain independence from Italy in 1951. The king that was installed, however, allowed foreign countries to exploit the country’s oil resources (discovered in 1959), and was subsequently overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1969 (led by Muammar Gaddafi). British and US personnel were immediately expelled by the new regime, and a wave of nationalisations began, instantly gaining Gaddafi fame as an enemy of the West and an ally of anti-imperialist nations throughout the world.
In 1973, after unsuccessfully invading northern Chad, Gaddafi revealed his ‘Third Universal Theory’ – combining socialism, popular democracy, Arab unity, and progressive Islam. These ideas would later be put together in his Green Book. In 1980, he invaded Chad again, but failed due to local resistance backed by France and the USA. Thousands of Libyans died and millions of dollars were lost in this mission. Meanwhile, Gaddafi supported attempts to unify anti-imperialist groups throughout the world, and especially in Africa, making him one of the biggest enemies of Western imperialism. In 1992, the UN placed sanctions on Libya for its alleged involvement in the Lockerbie Bombing of 1988 in Scotland and the explosion of a French plane over Niger. Three years after the implementation of these sanctions, Gaddafi expelled around 30,000 Palestinians from Libya in protest at the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel.
After Gaddafi handed over suspects in the Lockerbie Bombing for trial in the Netherlands in 1999, UN sanctions were suspended and diplomatic relations with the UK were restored. A year later, dozens of African migrants were killed as a result of rising racial tension, while in 2001 Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland for the Lockerbie Bombing. Two years on, Libya took officially took responsibility for the bombing and gave $2.7 billion worth of compensation to the families of Lockerbie victims. As a consequence, the UN Security Council definitively lifted sanctions on Libya.
In 2005, Gaddafi began to auction off oil and gas exploration licences to foreign companies, leading the USA to restore full diplomatic ties with Libya in 2006. The following year, meanwhile, the government would declare that over a third of the total Libyan workforce would be made redundant, with around 400,000 government workers losing their jobs as a result of increasing austerity measures.
In 2010, US senators began to push for an inquiry into claims that oil giant BP had lobbied for al-Megrahi’s release from prison on compassionate grounds the previous year. At the same time, BP confirmed it was to begin drilling off the Libyan coast. A year later, the Arab Spring spread to Libya, with the detention of a human rights campaigner sparking violent protests in the eastern city of Benghazi. Escalating clashes between security forces and Western-backed rebels ensued, while Gaddafi refused to step down. In March, the UN Security Council authorised a no-fly zone over the country, and NATO began air strikes, allegedly to ‘protect civilians’. The fight soon became a large-scale civil conflict, with Gaddafi only fleeing in August and being murdered two months later.
Over the next three years, the blind self-interest of the West’s intervention became clear, as clashes between different rebel forces (mostly pro-Western and Islamist groups) began to plague the country. In September 2012, for example, the US ambassador in Benghazi, along with three other Americans, was killed after armed men, suspected to be Islamists, stormed the American consulate. With a pro-US regime in place in the country, there was no significant US response to this killing.
In June 2014, the democratic process in Libya was still shaky, as new elections were marred by a low turn-out – caused by a lack of security and opposition boycotts. The following month, UN staff pulled out of the country, embassies were shut, and foreigners were evacuated as the security situation deteriorated drastically. In August, two rival parliaments (in Tripoli and Tobruk) began to compete for control of the country. According to the BBC in early 2015, Libya had “been plagued by instability and infighting” ever since the toppling of Gaddafi, while The Economist called it the “next failed state”. According to the latter, the country was suffering a “chaotic decline” and was now “barely a country at all”. While the east of Libya was “under the control of a more or less secular alliance, based in Tobruk”, the west was run by “a hotch-potch of groups… backed by hardline Islamist militias”. These western militias were being backed by “Turkey, Qatar and Sudan”, and “Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), among others” were backing those in the east. Either way, however, it had become clear that the West’s meddling had succeeded in creating yet another Iraq. [More on this disastrous interference will be seen in Chapter Six.]
Syria – Libya Mark II
In 1922, the territory of the newly-created Syria would fall under the influence of French colonialists, who would separate Druze and Alawite populations, saying they should have separate states. Between 1925 and 1927, the Druze state began a rebellion, along with the rest of Syria, and six thousand people died in the subsequent colonialist crackdown. In the following years, nationalism began to grow in popularity and, in 1940, the Ba’ath Party was founded in a search for Arab unity in the region. When France was occupied by the Nazis and Vichy rule was installed, the British moved into Syria to impose Free French rule, though full independence from France would only come in 1946.
In 1958, Syria joined the UAR with Egypt after a popular referendum, but Nasser’s land redistribution and other progressive policies angered conservative Syrians, who saw the UAR dissolved three years later. In 1963, the Ba’ath Party led a coup, and soon found itself at odds with Israel. During the Six-Day War, Syrian jets were shot down, and Egypt could not provide sufficient support to them because of the decimation of its own forces. The Golan Heights were captured by Israel in the conflict, and the leadership of the Ba’athist regime was brought into question. As a result, General Hafez al-Assad led an internal coup in 1970 to push out pro-Soviet Ba’athists and implement a more capitalist system of rule. His Alawite minority began to exert a tight control over the country, though it officially remained a secular state. Soon, the Ba’ath Party was made the only legal political organization, and free expression was severely curbed by a notoriously brutal secret police.
In 1982, the Egyptian-inspired Muslim Brotherhood led an uprising, which was repressed after Syrian policemen were killed. Thousands of troops besieged the town of Hama for days, killing between 5,000 and 25,000 civilians in the process. The town was effectively destroyed, and it stood as an example of Assad’s intolerance of all opposition to his rule. When he died in the year 2000, his son Bashar soon assumed the same tight political control as his father.
When the Arab Spring arrived over a decade later, the Ba’athist regime represented an unpredictable force, much like Libya, that Western elites wanted to destroy. While it had become friendlier with the West and more open to capitalism (also like Libya), it still demanded a certain amount of independence from Western interference in its internal politics. NATO could not intervene as it did in Libya, however, as it had neither UN nor popular support for such action. As a result, it had to support largely Islamist anti-Assad rebels through third parties like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar. The make-up of the Syrian opposition, however, along with the nature of its foreign backing, facilitated the rise to prominence of more intolerant and determined Wahhabi Islamist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS. In particular, the rapid growth of the latter between 2013 and 2014 would eventually lead the USA and its allies to begin airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria in late 2014. Meanwhile, the most effective anti-ISIS fighters on the ground in Syria would prove to be the largely Kurdish YPG/YPJ based in the autonomous Rojava region in the north of the country. [As Syria is an important part of this book’s investigation, issues relating to Ba’athism, Islamism, the Syrian Civil War, and Rojava will be covered in greater detail from Chapter Three onwards.]